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Chapter · February 2015

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Julia Budka, Frank Kammerzell
& Sławomir Rzepka (eds.)

Non-Textual Marking Systems


in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere)
Lingua Aegyptia
Studia Monographica

Herausgegeben von
Frank Kammerzell, Gerald Moers und Kai Widmaier

Band 16

Institut für Archäologie Institut für Ägyptologie


Widmaier Verlag
Humboldt-Universität Universität Wien
Hamburg
Berlin Wien
Non-Textual Marking Systems
in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere)

edited by
Julia Budka, Frank Kammerzell
& Sławomir Rzepka

Widmaier Verlag ∙ Hamburg


2015
Titelaufnahme:
Julia Budka, Frank Kammerzell & Sławomir Rzepka (eds.)
Non-Textual Marking Systems in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere)
Hamburg: Widmaier Verlag, 2015
(Lingua Aegyptia – Studia Monographica; Bd. 16)
ISSN 0946-8641
ISBN 978-3-943955-16-3

© Widmaier Verlag, Kai Widmaier, Hamburg 2015


Das Werk, einschließlich aller seiner Teile, ist urheberrechtlich geschützt.
Jede Verwertung außerhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberrechtsgesetzes ist ohne Zustimmung
des Verlages unzulässig und strafbar. Das gilt insbesondere für Vervielfältigungen, Übersetzungen,
Mikroverfilmungen und die Einspeicherung und Verarbeitung in elektronischen Systemen.
Gedruckt auf säurefreiem, archivierfähigem Papier.
Druck und Verarbeitung: Hubert & Co., Göttingen
Printed in Germany

www.widmaier-verlag.de
CONTENTS

PREFACE ....................................................................................................... ix

METHODS & SEMIOTIC

Julia Budka, Frank Kammerzell & 6áDZRPLU5]HSND


Non-textual Marking Systems in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere):
An introduction ......................................................................................... 1-8

Kyra YRQGHU0RH]HO
Signification in Ancient Egyptian Builders’ Marks .................................. 9-30

$GDPàXNDV]HZLF]
Arithmoi and Semeia ................................................................................. 31-37

ARCHITECTURE & BUILDERS’ MARKS

Kamil O. .XUDV]NLHZLF]
Non-textual Marking on a Construction Site ............................................ 39-40

Kamil O. .XUDV]NLHZLF]
Marks on the Faience Tiles from the “Blue Chambers”
of Netjerykhet’s Funerary Complex .......................................................... 41-48

'DZLGF. :LHF]RUHN
Building Dipinti in the Hatshepsut and Thutmose III Temples
at Deir el-Bahari: Summarising four seasons of work
(2006, 2008, 2009, 2011) ........................................................................... 49-57

0\ULDP 6HFRÈOYDUH] $JXVWtQ*DPDUUD&DPSX]DQR


Thutmosis III Temple of Millions of Years and the Mud Brick Marks:
Conservation and first conclusions ........................................................... 59-67

Athena Van der Perre


Quarry Marks of the Amarna Period: The limestone quarries
RI'D\U$Enj+LQQLV ................................................................................... 69-80

0DULD1LOVVRQ
Non-textual Marking Systems at Gebel el-Silsila:
From dynastic signifiers of identity to symbols of adoration .................... 81-105
vi &RQWHQWV

DEIR EL-MEDINA

Eva-0DULD(QJHO
Non-textual Marking Systems: The case of Deir el-Medina ..................... 107-108

'DQLHO6ROLPDQ
Workmen’s Marks in Pre-Amarna Tombs at Deir el-Medina ................... 109-132

Ben J. J. Haring
Between Administrative Writing and Work Practice:
Marks ostraca and the roster of day duties
of the royal necropolis workmen in the New Kingdom ............................. 133-142

$QGUHDV'RUQ
Für jeden Arbeiter aus Deir el-Medine ein Namenszeichen? .................... 143-158

6áDZRPLU5]HSND
“Funny signs” Graffiti vs. Textual Graffiti: Contemporary or not? ........ 159-184

POT MARKS

Julia Budka & Eva-0DULD(QJHO


Pot Marks from Ancient Egypt: The multiple function
of marking ceramic vessels ....................................................................... 185-186

Gaëlle Bréand
Pot Marks on Bread Moulds in Settlement Context
during Naqada III Period: A comparative view
from Adaïma (Upper Egypt) and Tell el-Iswid South (Lower Egypt) ........ 187-213

Eva-0DULD(QJHO
The Early Dynastic Pot Mark Project ...................................................... 215-228

Rita Hartmann
Ein Corpus von Ritzmarken auf Weinkrügen
aus dem Grab des Ninetjer in Saqqara ..................................................... 229-243

Petra Andrássy
Pot Marks in Textual Evidence? ............................................................... 245-253

THRGR]ja I. Rzeuska
Noughts and Crosses: Pot marks on the late Old Kingdom
beer jars from West Saqqara .................................................................... 255-281
&RQWHQWV vii

Julia Budka
Marks on Egyptian Festival Pottery: The use of pot marks
in the context of Osirian rituals at Umm el-Qaab, Abydos ....................... 283-297

Julia Budka
Pot Marks on New Kingdom Amphorae from the Oases:
The case of Umm el-Qaab ......................................................................... 299-305

*iERU6FKUHLEHU
Late Dynastic and Ptolemaic Pot Marks from the Thebaid ...................... 307-320

ADDRESSES OF THE AUTHORS ............................................................... 321


Non-Textual Marking Systems in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere), 41-48

Marks on the Faience Tiles from the “Blue Chambers”


of Netjerykhet’s Funerary Complex

Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz, Warsaw

Abstract
Two sets of rooms hewn in the bedrock under the Step Pyramid complex were decorated with blue
faience tiles, a significant number of which has been found detached from the walls (also outside the
complex). Among the detached tiles, numerous are marked on the reverse side. The purpose and
meaning of the markings, which were invisible in the final form of the decoration, is discussed in the
present paper.

When thinking of the Step Pyramid complex in Saqqara, one usually focuses on its
architecture, which, however, is not the only fascinating aspect of the complex. Un-
like other royal tombs before Unas, the complex has also yielded plenty of epigraphic
material, including an evidence that is the subject of the present study. One group of
inscribed objects comprises blue faience tiles that decorated walls of underground
rooms. While the rooms and their relief decoration were subject of many studies, the
tiles themselves usually draw less attention.1
There are two separate suites of rooms cut in the bedrock under the complex – one
under the pyramid, the other being part of the South Tomb – each planned to comprise
four rooms with walls covered with faience tiles.2 The rooms of the South Tomb have
most probably been completed, while those under the pyramid were left unfinished. In
both suites some tiles are still found in situ, but majority of them was found in the
debris filling the rooms.
In modern times, the underground rooms were first entered in 1821 by J. H. von
Minutoli, who mentioned their tiled decoration.3 In 1837, the rooms were visited by J.
Perring who found many tiles detached from the walls and described the method of
fixing the tiles to the masonry.4 In 1843 Lepsius’ team entered the rooms under the
pyramid; it was at that time that one of the door frames, together with a wall fragment,

Egyptology Section, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Warsaw.


1 Cf. PM III2 (400-401 for rooms under the pyramid, 408-409 for rooms under the South Tomb). For
faience tiles, see: Borchardt & Sethe (1892: 83-87); Firth & Quibell (1935: 33-34, 58-64); Lauer
(1936: 36-38; 1962: 76-79); Friedman & Borromeo (1998: 180-181, nos. 17-20); Parkinson (1999:
93); Ziegler (1999); Baud (2002: 159-161); Davidovits & Davidovits (2007: 373-378); Kuraszkie-
wicz (2006: 274-275, Pl. XV); Whisenant (2012).
2 Similar faience tiles have been found also in Abydos, Hierakonpolis, Elephantine and Tell Ibrahim
Awad; I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Willem van Haarlem (Allard Pierson Mu-
seum, Amsterdam) for bringing the latter to my attention, as well as for inspiring discussion.
3 Quoted by Borchardt & Sethe (1892: 84, note 2).
4 Perring (1842: 10-12, Pl. XII, and S. Birch’s notes on pp. 13-14).
42 Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz

Fig. 1: Position of tiled walls within underground rooms of the South Tomb and Pyramid.

has been dismantled and transferred to Berlin, where it was exhibited until the World
War II.5 To date, the tiled rooms were examined and described in a most detailed way
by C. M. Firth and J.-Ph. Lauer.6
A huge number of tiles detached from the walls was found in the fill of the under-
ground rooms as well as in the debris filling the Step Pyramid complex. Numerous
tiles are kept in various museums, and from time to time they appear also on the an-
tiquities market. It may be supposed that these come from early excavations or have
been found accidentally; it is, however, impossible to keep a comprehensive record of
such objects. Since 1987, a significant number of faience tiles – complete as well as
fragmentary ones – has been found during the Polish work west of the Step Pyramid
complex. The tiles, even though found outside the temenos, seem to have been actu-
ally used in the subterranean rooms. Some of them still bear remains of plaster that
was used to fix them, also several fragments of limestone blocks and other objects
were found that evidently came from the Netjerykhet’s complex.7
The tiles, set in the carved surface of limestone masonry, which was visible
between them, imitated a reed matting, while a few additional elements, both carved
in stone (e.g. relief panels and door-frames) or formed of faience inlays (i.e. djed-
friezes) completed the decoration of the underground rooms.8 Except for a certain
amount of tiles used in the djed-friezes, the tiles are almost identical: rectangular in
shape, slightly varying in size: on the average they measure 4x6cm. All surfaces of

5 LD II (2f); LD Text (194-195). The door-frame was then studied by L. Borchardt: Borchardt &
Sethe (1892: 83-87, Bl. 1).
6 Firth & Quibell (1935: 4, 28, 33-34, 58-59); Lauer (1936: 36-38).
7 0\ĞOLZLHF, Herbich & 1LZLĔVNL (1995: 186-188, Figs. 11-12); Kuraszkiewicz (2006); A. Ko-
walska in 0\ĞOLZLHF : 383; 2013: 436, note 2) and in 0\ĞOLZLHF.XUDV]NLHZLF]HWDO (2010:
112, note 30).
8 Cf. Firth & Quibell (1935: frontispiece, 33-34, Pls. 13-17, 19, 38-45, see also Pl. 109.4); Lauer,
(1936: 34-35, Pls. XXXIV-XXXVII; 1962: 76-81).
Netjerykhet’s Blue Tiles 43

Fig. 2 a: A sample faience tile; b: upper parts of two sample tiles with the notches.

Fig 3 a: Limestone blocks with grooves and apertures for the faience tiles; b: Method of fixing the tiles
to the wall, based on: Borchardt (1892: Pl. I).
44 Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz

Fig. 4: Corpus of marks on the faience tiles from the Step Pyramid complex.

the tiles are covered with a shiny, blue, green or even greyish glaze, possibly depend-
ing on the composition of the faience paste and on the temperature of firing, but a
secondary discoloration resulting from humidity also cannot be excluded.9 The frontal
surface of each tile is convex, while on the reverse side there is a rectangular protru-
sion, being a kind of tenon, with a transverse aperture. The tiles were fixed in hori-
zontal grooves cut in the limestone masonry by means of plaster and a cord passing
through the apertures in the tiles and in the wall.10 The precise total number of tiles
actually used in the underground rooms is unknown, but the area of the planned deco-
rated surfaces can be estimated as ca. 80m2 in each set of rooms. As there are ca. 260
tiles needed to cover one square meter of a wall, the total number of tiles necessary to
decorate the blue chamber amounts to ca. 40000.
In some cases, the reverse side of a tile bears a sign. The vast majority of such
tiles carry a single sign, usually placed close to one of the shorter edges. Occasionally,
however, the signs are found on the tenon and few tiles show two signs: one of them
at the edge, the other on the tenon. The list of the signs was compiled by Perring, and
then supplemented by Borchardt.11 At present, sixty-four different marks are recorded
on the tiles: thirty-six single hieroglyphic signs, two hieroglyphic sign-groups, twelve
numerals and fourteen unidentified signs. Among the identifiable signs, ten are clearly
oriented right-to-left, eleven left-to-right, and in the case of thirty-seven symmetrical
signs the orientation cannot be determined. At least nine signs occur more than once

9 Davidovits & Davidovits (2007); Whisenant (2012). Firth & Quibell (1935: 139, Pl. 110.4) note
also the presence of a unique red tile, the provenance of which is unknown.
10 Borchardt & Sethe (1892: 85-86, Bl. 1).
11 Borchardt & Sethe (1892: 83-87, Bl. 1).
Netjerykhet’s Blue Tiles 45

(usually twice), and numerals 3, 4 and 6 are attested three times or more. It should be
emphasised, however, that the above numbers refer only to the tiles that have been
published or otherwise documented, and probably an unknown number of marked
tiles eludes observation.12
An important aspect of any discussion on the tiles is the method of their manu-
facturing. Considering the huge number of tiles required to decorate the rooms, it
seems almost certain that their surfaces were moulded. The frontal, convex surface
seems to have been impressed in a mould. However, the reverse side was shaped
manually, thus the tenons display a significant diversity in shape, proportions and
dimensions. It seems probable that the tenons were formed separately of faience paste
and stuck to the frontal part before firing. It is at that stage of production that the tiles
have been marked. All the signs were incised before firing, and the lines as well as the
surface around them are covered with glaze. The aperture appears to have been
marked in the wet faience paste, but final drilling was done after firing, as evidenced
by the lack of the glaze inside.
The meaning of the signs is unknown, and different interpretations have been pro-
posed. Birch suggested them to be remains of an inscription, probably an offering
formula.13 Firth and Quibell described them as “probably makers’ marks,”14 while
Parkinson suggested also a possibility that the marks relate to intended destination of
the tiles.15
There are several groups of written material found in the Step Pyramid complex.
The finely carved inscriptions on the door frames and relief panels contain the royal
names and scene labels. The quality of workmanship and contents of these inscrip-
tions exclude any similarity between them and the marks on the faience tiles.16 The
second group consists of inscriptions carved on limestone stelae re-used already dur-
ing the construction of the Step Pyramid complex.17 Although the stelae are less care-
fully executed than the above-mentioned reliefs, the hieroglyphs are uniform, clearly
defined and do not resemble the sketchy form of the signs on the tiles. Also the func-
tion of the two groups of inscriptions was completely different. They were intended to
be visible (although, in the case of the stelae, for a limited time), while the signs on
the tiles are written on the reverse side, therefore they became hidden when tiles were
fixed to the walls.

12 Apart from the signs, some tiles bear distinct notches – see, e.g. Borchardt & Sethe (1892: Bl. 1 
middle, left, clearly visible on the upper edge of the tile) – also made before firing, on one of the
edges of the reverse side. However, due to the fragmentary state of preservation of numerous tiles,
the notches are much very difficult to be identified and traced. Thus it is not certain if they can be
seen as any kind of marking system or as an accidental damage during the process of shaping the
tiles.
13 S. Birch in: Perring (1842: 13-14).
14 Firth & Quibell (1935: 4).
15 Parkinson (1999: 93).
16 Smith (1978: 138-139). The door jamb decorated with snakes, found in the Teti pyramid complex,
see: Hawass (1994: 45-56), evidently belongs to the same category.
17 Kahl, Kloth & Zimmermann (1995: 80-85, 88-89, 112-113); Firth & Quibell (1935: 119); Lauer
(1936: 187-190); Aly (1998: 224-226); Goneim (1957: 8-10); Lloyd et al. (1990: 48); Oppenheim
(2007: 153-182); Kuraszkiewicz (2006: 276-277).
46 Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz

Because of the state of preservation of the tiled walls, Birch’s theory cannot be veri-
fied. It should be stressed, however, that the orientation of signs varies (some of them
being written along the longer axis of a tile, while others – along the shorter axis), and
an inscription composed of individual signs written on the reverse of the tiles would
not be visible when the decoration was in place. Moreover, the suggestion was based
on a limited number of signs which were known at that time, and that only a few of
the signs recorded to date can be attributed to such inscription. All these facts seem to
exclude the possibility of the marks being elements of a coherent inscription.
Another, large, group of inscriptions is found on stone vessels in the underground
galleries of the Step Pyramid complex.18 While stylistically more similar to the marks
on the tiles, these inscriptions contain clear references to people and places, at least
some of them predate the Netjerykhet’s reign, and they are related to an act of offer-
ing. Obviously, the similarity here results only from similar techniques of execution.
Finally, there is a small group of building inscriptions, as on the granite burial
chamber in the central pit under the pyramid or on some limestone masonry blocks.19
While the style of signs is similar to those on the tiles, the building inscriptions are
different in character. The inscriptions written on the elements of the granite chamber
were intended to indicate their position, thus each of them describes the direction and
number of a particular block. The marks on limestone masonry in the underground
chambers refer to positioning and levelling of the blocks and, apparently, to working
teams. No such technical marks are found on the tiles, which obviously would make
no sense, because the tiles, not differing significantly between each other, could have
been placed at any wall. It also does not seem plausible that the marks did designate
tiles provided for a particular room, a wall or a part of a wall, because the number of
marks exceeds the number of available surfaces (40-60 at the most), not to mention
the number of rooms (eight only). On the other hand, some of the supposed team
marks find parallels among the signs of the tiles.20
Considering the significant amount of tiles that were needed for the underground
rooms as well as the importance and the scale of such enterprise as construction of the
royal tomb, it may be assumed that the tiles have been ordered from several work-
shops and that the workshops have delivered the tiles in batches, to keep the workflow
undisturbed. Thus, the most obvious interpretation is that the signs indicated a pro-
ducer or a batch of tiles.
The number of tiles for the underground rooms can be estimated as around 40000,
while the number of marked tiles known does not exceed 80, which corresponds to
only ca. 0.2% of the tiles. On the other hand, among the tiles found in the Polish con-
cession, the proportion of marked ones is much higher, amounting to approximately
4%; a similar percentage can be observed in the case of tiles documented by Bor-
chardt. Considering that a significant amount of marked tiles eludes observation or
remains unrecorded, the higher proportion of marked to unmarked ones seems more
relevant. If so, one should expect to find approximately 1600 marked tiles. While such
number of workshops is improbable, the value could reflect the number of batches.

18 Lacau & Lauer (1961; 1965).


19 Gunn (1935: 62-65); Lauer (1936: 242-245; 1938: 551-565).
20 Lauer (1936: 242-245).
Netjerykhet’s Blue Tiles 47

Moreover, it would mean that a batch contained 25 tiles, which could have been
strung together using two cubits length of a cord, with a marked label-tile attached.
This amount would be convenient to handle and it would allow easily to count the
amounts of tiles delivered from workshops. Thus, the marks were most probably an
element of a system of control that allowed to monitor the regularity of supplies or the
completion of the contract or order.
Concerning the meaning of the signs, the majority of them do not conform any
known toponym or any other word or phrase that could be understood as a designation
of a workshop, a person or quality of product. Such marks as nfr (no. 6), aA (no. 20) or
mAa (no. 41) may describe the quality of tiles, while others – e.g. niwt (no. 22-23) or
Hwt could possibly refer, although rather vaguely, to a place of origin. However, a
system of control should be more or less coherent, otherwise it would not work. Thus,
if all the signs belonged to the same category (that is all of them designated producers
or all of them designated batches of products), their meaning could not be directly
related to the value of hieroglyphs. The signs should be seen rather as emblems, that is
graphic, non-textual symbols.
Therefore, it may be supposed that the marked tiles were intended as a kind of la-
bel, indicating a workshop (or team of workers) that produced a batch of tiles. A spe-
cific number of tiles could have been strung together, with a marked label-tile at-
tached, and the whole set delivered to the construction place. The fact that some
marks occur more than once seems to be an argument in favour of a workshop desig-
nation.

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